The Harmony of Nature
I realize it is morning. I am lying in bed. My body is relaxed, warm, comfortable. I am aware of the feeling of, “I don’t want to get up”. I don’t necessarily hear the words in my head, but I know I don’t want to get out of bed. I don’t need to tell myself this. I know this directly. My mind is clear. I sense the comfort of my body. I wonder … again without needing to tell myself that I am wondering … “When will I get out of bed? In ten seconds, in one minute, in five minutes?” I know I can make it happen whenever I “choose” to do so, but I am curious. If I lie here in bed and do not initiate a movement, what will happen? I know I will not remain here all day or all morning. If I don’t initiate, what will my body do? How will it decide to rise … and how, exactly, does that happen?
I wait and watch. Nothing is changing. I continue to watch with growing interest. I continue to wait … and then, almost surprising me, my body throws a leg out of bed and rises. As it gets up, it carries me with it. It is now walking towards the bathroom for its morning ablutions. I am pretty certain I did not initiate this. Something in me made the decision, but it wasn’t the part of me that was watching.
I am reading aloud in a group with friends. I hear my voice say the words. I am aware of my tone and emphasis shifting with the content, trying to find a pace and intonation that brings the text to life as I attempt to feel an understanding of the material. Then someone interrupts my reading. I feel the reverberation of his voice inside me. He informs me that I missed a word or skipped a line. I look at the book and realize that he is correct. I am curious. How did that happen?
As I resume reading aloud, I now watch my eye movements. I notice that my eyes are not looking at the word I am pronouncing aloud in that moment. They are scanning ahead several words or sometimes a sentence. In the time it takes for my voice to speak the word, part of my attention has already moved forward to preview what is coming. Clearly, something has recorded, and is processing, individual words for enunciation, but is lagging behind my visual scanning. My eyes are in the future of the rendition while part of my mind is running a fraction of a second behind. I hear my voice finally pronounce the word even as my eyes are roaming ahead.
I have made no decision to do this. It is not a conscious strategy. It is just happening. At the moment, in addition to listening to my voice, to feeling its reverberation in my body and digesting the content, I now add the intentional watching of my eye movements. Who is actually doing the reading? My voice is reverberating by itself. My eyes have been moving on their own. I am aware that I am making the effort to follow all this simultaneously as I feel for the meaning of the word content … but the effort to pay attention seems like the only thing I, myself, am actually doing. The activity of my body and brain seems to be on automatic pilot.
I am in conversation with a companion. I notice that my hands and arms have been gesticulating without my initiation. I try an experiment. I hold them still, hands in my lap while I continue to talk. This feels very awkward, unnatural. Then they are moving again, joining in the conversation. I did not initiate this. I lost my attention on them. As soon as they realized they were not being watch, they launched again into their own animated language.
As the conversation continues, I watch my companion. His body is also speaking along with his voice. The motion of his arms and hands, as well as facial expressions, the angle of his body and the modulation of his voice, seem connected to the emotional quality of what he is saying. I wonder if he is aware of his conversational doppelganger.
How do my arms and hands know how to emphasize and punctuate? I did not intentionally teach them. Social scientists would say that I learned unconsciously from watching others as I grew up. That explanation seems to be a tautology. We learn to gesticulate from others who learned to gesticulate from others who learned to gesticulate from others … This begs the question. How does our body know how to speak with … or for us?
As I listen to my voice in conversation, I notice several interesting phenomena. I know the theme of what I want to say but I have not rehearsed the wording. The words flow, nevertheless … including many I did not anticipate. I cannot see what or how the words are being chosen. They seem to flow automatically. Often, I begin in one direction, but the words change course. Often, I am following the theme in my mind while my voice speaks for me. Then I see one, perhaps two or even three divergent associative themes appear in my minds-eye. Which direction to take? Perhaps I pause to think at this point, but sometimes my voice continues on the original theme as I instantly assess the new options, how they tie into the original, where they may lead, how to come back to be starting point if I get “lost”.
“Lost.” How do I get lost in my own mind? Where do I go? How do I find my way back? If I get lost in my mind, am I my mind or something wandering inside my mind? Is my mind on autopilot also? Having awoken from thousands of daydreams over the course of a lifetime, this question seems to answer itself.
I notice that, as I am speaking, there are often pictures or thematic outlines forming, on their own, in my mind ahead of the expression of words. Often, I am assessing them for relevance to the conversation at hand and then deciding which to offer to my voice for verbalizing. Sometimes, when I am talking about a topic which has emotional energy for me, I listen to the words flow out faster than I can think. They often lead in directions I had not anticipated and sometimes verbalize ideas or solutions I did not know I knew until I hear them, along with my listeners, for the first time. Sometimes I hear my voice say something unintended by my mind.
Where do the words come from? As with other motions manifesting from my body, I cannot see the connection between the activity in my mind and the complex modulations of my vocal cords, breath, lips, tongue producing symbolic sounds.
I am looking at my hand lying in my lap. I have the intention to deliberately raise it. I am interested to again try to see the connection between my intent and the movement. I look at it and think in my mind, “Rise”. It remains motionless. Now I say aloud to it, “Rise”. It does not move. Now I allow it to rise … and it does. This is truly, psychokinesis, mind over matter.
I have often been driving while daydreaming, or listening to the radio, or talking with my passenger. I “awaken” suddenly to the fact that I am operating a multi-ton vehicle at sixty miles per hours, maintaining position on a curving road while avoiding collision with other multi-ton vehicles traveling along-side me. I know that you, my reader, have also experienced this phenomenon.
I am recalling, at this moment of writing, a dark, foggy night in rural Maine. I was half-way home on my hour-long trip, driving a familiar road. I have no recollection what I was thinking about, but I clearly recall the moment of realizing that I had no idea where I was. What I could make out along the roadside, despite the fog, immediately told me I was no longer on the main road. Where did I turn off? How long ago? How far had I traveled? Where was I?
I thought I could turn around and, if I had made only one wrong turn, I would eventually return to the main road, but if had made more than one, I might not locate myself for a long time. Or, I could continue until I found a familiar landmark. I chose the latter option. A few minutes later I intersected with the main road and realized I had unconsciously taken a side loop which I had once driven before.
Who is driving when I am not present to the road?
As I round a curve on a country road. I am aware of movement in my peripheral vision. I notice my hands turn the steering wheel as my foot applies pressure to the break. The car modifies its trajectory. Suddenly, a deer enters my direct field of vision, running across road in front of me. The alteration in the car’s angle and speed easily averts a collision. The deer disappears into the forest on the opposite side of the road. My hands readjust the car’s position back into alignment with the center line. My foot eases off the break. My heart has not missed a beat. My breath has not sped up. I feel no anxiety. I am totally relaxed. The entire event, as I play it back in my mind, took less than two seconds … “one thousand one, one thousand two”. Yet, during the event, there had been no sense of hurry. Everything had transpired … v e r y … s l o w l y.
Time had altered. All the actions my body took were done without my intentional initiation. They just happened as I had watched the event, the car, the deer, my body, as if it were a movie.
I am walking down a city street. I recall a mental exercise that has been recommended to me.
I put half my attention into the sensation of my body in motion. With most of the remainder, I begin to visualize the alphabet, letter by letter as my mind says its name. In between each letter I visualize and say a number, starting from twenty-six and counting backwards to one. When I reach the end, I now visualize and pronounce each letter and the intervening numbers backwards. While mentally working in this way, I try to maintain sensory contact with my body and watch it walking. When I lose this split attention, either on the counting or my body, I start over again. My body continues to walk with confidence and competence, even when much of my attention is occupied in my head. Clearly, my body does not need conscious direction from me in order to know how to move.
It is very difficult to pay attention to the body in motion for more than a few seconds. The body’s reactions are generally too fast to be thought out step by step. Try catching a ball by thinking about how to do it or think your way downstairs rather than letting the body continually voluntarily fall and catch itself on the step below over and over until the stairway ends.
Clearly, “Thought” is much too slow to control or direct movement.
The learned-academic response to this recognition is that the movement is instinctual or hard-wired due to prolonged practice. This may be correct in terms of brain structure and functions, but it overlooks the mystery of my body being an entity of its own. Sometimes my consciousness and body communicate, but for the most part, it lives its physical life, and I live my psychological life, side-by-side or one-inside-the-other, with only intermittent awareness of each other.
If one is a meditator, an interesting effort to make is to try to maintain awareness and connection with your body when the meditation ends, and you get up and move around again. If the form of meditation you are practicing is focused on strengthening attention, the effort does not end with the meditation. The meditation is practice for strengthening the ability to be attentive in life.
There is a Buddhist saying, “I have a body, but I am not my body …”. This may seem to be a nonsensical statement. Or, one may pay lip service to it in theoretical agreement. To discover that this observation is, literally true, changes one’s sense of reality and one’s sense of the very nature of oneself.